The sun blazed down with scorching heat the day I stood at the Wailing Wall. The slight breeze was a God send in the 40-degree weather, and my long layers of clothing felt stifling. I adjusted my scarf, ensuring my neckline was respectfully covered. My friend and I stood close, trying to engage individually without losing one another in the crowds. Not quite sure how to respond, I didn’t know whether to partake in what was happening around me academically or spiritually, or perhaps a bit of both. Perhaps the two should never have been separate.Behind me were the pounding sounds of a thriving ancient city, the old mixed with the new.
Around me whirled the sounds of more languages than I could count. I easily recognized the Hebrew, English, and German voices. I caught what I thought was French and some Portuguese – or was it Italian? Bits of Russian punctuated with Arabic in the distance. Before me stood the wall. The Western Wall. The Wailing Wall. Standing at the heart of Jerusalem, it is often characterized as a place of tears, where people go to weep, to cry out to God: A place of lament.
Lament. The cries of the broken, the hymn of the weary. The calling out to God for his deliverance in our pain. From feelings or experiences or circumstances, lament is a cry for God to save. The Scriptures are filled with times of lament. When God’s people were in exile and oppressed by enemy rulers, they lamented. When David was being chased by Saul, or when his son usurped him and stole his throne, he lamented. Lament was a part of the very fabric of Israelite society. In seasons of struggle, they lamented.
We so like to be comfortable that we don’t give much attention to things like grieving together with God.
When Jesus taught us how to pray, he prayed “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one…” Temptation. Peirasmos: the Greek word meaning temptation, testing, trial, experiment. Lead us not into temptation. Lead us not into a time of testing. Lead us not into a season of trial. Deliver us. You see lament is, at its core, a cry for God’s deliverance from trials, from testing, from temptation. Jesus’ prayer, “And lead us not into temptation” is a lament. It, too, is a cry for God’s deliverance.I stood, staring at the wall like a stranger I was unsure of. I was struck with its profound historical significance, and unsure of how I should respond. All around me, women gathered to pray. Some wept. Some wrote their prayers on little pieces of paper and hid them within the cracks of the walls. Silent prayers meant for God alone. I don’t remember if I placed a prayer in the wall. I do remember being confused, and a little uncomfortable.
Lament isn’t something we really focus on, or talk about much in the North American church, is it? We so like to be comfortable that we don’t give much attention to things like grieving together with God. And yet there is an entire book of the Bible dedicated to lament. Approximately one third of the psalms are of lament. All through the major and minor prophets we see people lamenting, calling out to God for deliverance from their circumstances.
It is a foreign concept in our society, and yet an integral part of the human experience. Our closest friends are the ones we lament with. They are the ones we invite into our pain and suffering, the ones to whom we trust the depths of our grief. Yet, it has been ingrained into us by modern, Western culture that we are to be happy. We are to do whatever is necessary to avoid pain, discomfort and death. Grieving, we are taught, is a private affair. We must not put it on the shoulders of anyone else. So we hide ourselves away from the concept of lament. After all, if we truly trusted God and his plan, we wouldn’t need to lament. Would we? After all, God wants us to be happy. Doesn’t he?
I stared up at the Wailing Wall, not sure whether or not to touch it. Part of me felt like I should, yet part of me felt like I shouldn’t. After all, the presence of God is certainly not bound to a location, and there is nothing holy about stones and rubble in and of themselves. I looked around me, trying not to invade upon private prayers, yet intrigued by something so outside my realm of normalcy.
When we lament, we ask God to be with us in our pain. We grieve in his presence and invite him into our sorrow. Lament, that exposing our pain to God, brings a cry for deliverance. For him to save us from the circumstances we are struggling with. It’s not easy, is it? It’s utterly painful. It’s ripping the scab off a wound to let the infection drain out. It hurts yet it’s deeply necessary.
We live in a culture that lists feelings as facts, so we bow down. We bow down at the altar of our comfort. We sacrifice to the god of our convenience the only things that could truly make us whole. We exchange the intimacy of God for our pride, plaster on our plastic smiles and say we’re doing fine. And it’s destroying us. We no longer know how to lament before the Lord or lament with one another, so we hide behind our careers, our social media, or wherever else we find to place our identity. In all this God continues to call us to lament, call us back to Himself, call us to give to him the deep parts of ourselves: our pain, our grief, our sorrow.
A few years ago, I sat at the table of dear friends and poured out my anguish over a painful experience I was walking through. I didn’t hold back. Raw anger, betrayal and brokenness poured out. In my hurt and my frustration, I was told to pray. I think I may have rolled my eyes.
“No Brittany,” a friend said. “You need to really pray. How many of the psalms began with David’s cry for God to just kill everyone? You need to pray with that sort of honesty.”
So I went home that night, and on my living room floor I got on my knees to say: “God, I am so, so angry.”
And then I stayed there. I remained in that moment, in that space, in that prayer, for I don’t know how long. It was a prayer, not of words, but of silent, guttural anguish: “God I am so, so angry.”
And I was blown away. Not that my situation changed, but that somehow the good and holy God of the Universe comes down to be with us, to sit on living room floors and listen to silent, guttural anger. He comes to bind us with the strength for war, or to give us the feeble cry that somehow reaches the Heavens. To say it is enough when we cry out: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
We all walk through painful seasons of life. I have in my home a chest filled with blankets, and tucked away in the bottom corner is hidden a Baby’s First Bible, a book of stories and a picture I bought for a nursery. The nursery has yet to be set up. The nursery is still empty after three years in the praying. And I’ve been asking God to help us. To help us by fixing things. To help us by making it easy.
But maybe, when I think he’s saying no – no to making things easy, not yet to the broken pleas – what he’s really saying is yes. Yes to helping us and yes to making us more like him. Yes to helping us depend on him. Yes to just getting us to the end of the day. Maybe God’s greatest mercies is every yes we don’t realize he’s saying. And maybe that yes is enough, and maybe the yes I have in mind never would be. In order for his strength to be perfect in my weakness, I need to be in a place of weakness. I need to lament before the Lord. I need to be in that place Christ truly is enough.
Maybe we meet God in a new way in lament. In a way that doesn’t feel good, but that somehow changes the landscape of our souls. Maybe that’s why it’s modeled in Scripture and why God draws us in, even when it doesn’t feel good.
I stood, hand on the Wailing Wall. My fingers ran down over the stones, careful not to knock out any hidden slips of paper. Then slowly, I walked away. Stepping backwards, careful not to turn my back to the wall. The sun beat down and I fumbled for my water.
God be with us.